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Motivations

(she is lovely, isn’t she?)

Now that’s out of the way, motivations:

This blog was set up in an attempt to approach the problems of a younger left on a more heterogeneous level. I am in contact with a farmer here in France, for instance, who grows my produce on his plot outside Paris. He, amongst innumerable others, has access to a world of knowledge and motivations that I simply cannot access at this current time – all of which we welcome and require for the development of this blog.

The internet is thus a space that has the capacity to fold into itself endless streams of differing information and subjectivities, this much is clear to almost everyone and takes no analysis to uncover. What arises from this, aside with the almost infinite possibilities of global communication, does of course need questioning. How, for example, are social networking sites modifying (or more likely compounding) current ideological tendencies – the manner in which we regard others, the availability and proliferation of means of procrastination? Still, such questions are relatively basic. Even to state that facebook/myspace/twitter et al. function as today’s ‘opiate for the masses’ (and I count myself party to this) is not a great stretch of the imagination, though it is an important recognition nonetheless and one I feel must be constantly reasserted in order to ward off their malevolent consequences.

My motivations arise, then, in opening up a(nother) place for such questions.

I will pose another now, one which I have been thinking on a lot recently and which affects the very medium of the blog. Can such advances in technology be harnessed for social change? Or do they presuppose a methodology for looking at the world that is inherently capitalist? For me, this is nowhere more clear an issue than in the recent development of the iPhone, which I am sure will soon be surpassed in both technology and proliferation. On any one metro trip to work, a book store (which will provide ample issues and blogs), iPhones are literally everywhere. Whilst it can be claimed, obviously, that such technology is a utility, it becomes clear that these developments begin to act as social agents as much as social signposts – effecting as well as serving.

The objection I hold to such gadgets is manifold, being firstly born of dependency – or my desire not be dependent upon such items. This, itself, may betray an ideological imperative on my behalf, but perhaps others may decipher this more easily than I. The main issue, of course, is the inherent stranglehold that capitalism has on technology and the fact that so many ‘lefties’ seem wilfully to speak out against capitalism on one hand and check iPhone facebook on the other.

This problem can be reduced, I suppose, to Zizek’s comment that ‘Resistance is Surrender’, in the sense that capitalism’s genius is that it has subsumed all aspects of socio-cultural actions/events into itself. Even protest becomes an affirmation of the rights of liberal democracy. But this will inform further posts, and shouldn’t get in the way now, at least.

How, then, do we mediate such issues? As someone of strong beliefs, I am highly tempted to ditch the iPod as soon as it ‘shuffle[s] off this mortal coil’, to attempt the retrieval of computers from sources other than corporations, etc. At what point is it ridiculous to shun the wave of technology?

This has turned into a bit of a ramble, but so be it, for I think that whilst clarity is of course needed on this blog, and in attempting to mediate the shit stream of contemporary society, to do so in a wholly academic and restricted manner is not conducive to socialist progression. In response to Joe’s comments about cynicism (https://thenightshifts.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/a-little-bit-about-me/), the role of creativity here to loosen the bonds of capitalist structures is crucial. We must be at once ruthless and yet also fluid, malleable and able to laugh at our own ridiculousness (at the fact that I quite hypocritically used the image of that lovely lady covered in ads. to grab your attention)

So I say: farmers, programmers, economists, business men, politicians, doctors, artists and theorists – get blogging you slack bastards.

Yours,

Terry.

Ps.

I am enamoured with such technological advances as OpenSource (http://www.openoffice.org/ for a free office suite, for instance) which allows the world’s programmers to collaborate on free software and offer it back to the public – and something which should be spread with relish (no pun) across the internet.

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15 responses »

  1. it should be added that I am in awe of the technological brilliance of the iPhone, I seemed to miss that out…

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  2. As a lover of technology, and as someone who in the autumn will be trying to find employment in the software sector, this is something I find difficult.

    I really enjoy programming, and I really fancy doing it as a job. But can I avoid being part of the capitalist machine? Is advancement in technology inextricably tied in with capitalism? I think it is, certainly at the moment.

    Yes the open-source movement on the surface is a good thing, but ultimately the software is created by programmers who still need to earn money by working for corporate software companies. Open-source software survives because of capitalism.

    Technology is driven by competition, and competition is the fundamental tennant of capitalism – not socialism. Discuss…

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  3. To be honest I think this is going to be a problem in ever area we come across. Since the main problem we face – capitalism – is a system, it means that any single problem is tied to that system. So unless your approach to tackling it will ultimately become systemic – i.e. your aim is to overthrow an entire system – it’ll be reabsorbed.

    The real question for me is how to begin at one opening (technology, say) and push it until it manages to connect to all the others. For example, could a communal technology project (like open-source) ever be radicalised to the extent that other sectors see something in it that appeals to them? And how could they bind on, as it were?

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  4. I think we’re mixing up two seperate things here: software and hardware. Software is something that anyone can create with the correct tools (pc + internet) and a bit of knowledge, it’s relatively simple to teach yourself to at least a basic level. Modern hardware however, can only be created using specialised machinery in laboratory conditions, operated by very skilled workers. In short, while I may be able to colaborate with others and create some new software, I’ll never be able to build a computer from raw materials.

    Modern technology is so capital intensive… could we even sustain our current level of technology under a socialist system?

    I agree with you John, that competition is one of the main things that creates new technologies, but it’s also worth remembering that most of the advances in science that brought about major technological breakthroughs came from academic scientific research rather than business. Also, capitalism in some way constrains technological development as new features and developments are held back for later releases (more models equals more products sold).

    Really we’re talking about innovation and how it would function under a socialist system. However, I hate the word ‘innovation’ so I’ve avoided using it so far.

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  5. Also, we haven’t questioned whether the rate of ‘innovation’ is simply too rapid. It may sound ridiculous but, as many theorists have posited, one of the key features of what Joe and John mentioned was the rate of innovation, ie, over time. The whole ethos of ‘time = money therefore radical and rapid development is implicitly the best option’ needs to be challenged. The rate of exchange of goods is included in this, how quickly one consumes what, but also of how we live our daily lives. I’m trying to read Antonio Negri’s ‘Time for Revolution’, which, when I get back to, I could maybe blog about…

    Also, it should be recognised that a great deal of technological advancement comes about due to the armed forces.

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  6. Innovation is a brilliant point in how radically different a socialist society would be. I’m gonna use a controversial example: that of Cuba. An acquaintance of mine went there on his travels and when he came back one of the things he said to me was ‘You would not believe their cars! They’re so old! They’re still using cars from the 1970s!’ To which someone replied: ‘Yeah, but in a communist society you don’t need to constantly revolutionise stuff all the time’.

    Now, Cuba is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but let’s just take the principle at stake: in truth, it is capitalism which is insane and revolutionary; as Walter Benjamin pointed out, capitalism is a runaway train – socialism is applying the emergency brakes. In a socialist society, constant innovation would no longer be necessary, whereas in capitalism it is: you need to constantly increase the rate of productivity (hence innovation in industrial technology) so as to decrease the time taken to produce and sell a good; you also, as joe touched on, need to increase the number of products on sale and to do that across a structured time scale which allows enough time to for the consumer to earn the money to buy a replacement for the old model. Time, as Terry rightly points out, is structured by capital.

    But in a socialist society this systemically necessary innovation would no longer be necessary. One would theoretically have to rationalise innovation – gear it to certain communal ends. And this would have massive repercussions. For example, someone who grew up in a capitalist society and then moved to a socialist society (hypothetically speaking) would, whilst enjoying the relative systemic tranquility of the latter, perhaps yearn for what felt like the Progress of the former. One’s sense of time and progress are bound up with the current system. (For example, in the Middle Ages time was thought of and felt as circular and seasonal – not as linear. Capitalism did much to institute the latter concept of time moving ever forward in a certain northerly direction – it wrote it into our very flesh and psychosomatic awareness).

    So, to sum up: innovation in a socialist society would be geared to communally agreed upon ends. It would be rational innovation. But it would feel like primitive backwardness to someone used to capitalism.

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  7. Indulge me while I try to over-simplify everything (I’m a scientist, thats what we do).

    In a socialist society as far as I understand it the emphasis is providing people with what they need. The basic things we need are warmth, food, shelter, sleep, relationships etc.. – things that have pretty much always existed. Now you could argue we need things like telephones. But we only need them because someone invented them first and now we decide that we need them.

    I’m not sure I’m expressing this very well, but what I’m driving at is how does socialism know what future developments they will ‘need’, if the act of development is at the time not in the interests of servicing the needs of people? As far as I can tell socialist societies dont tend to create new technologies for the communal good, they just appropriate existing technologies created by capitalism. They might choose to appropriate cars from the 70’s, as opposed to the newest models. But they are still created by capitalism. Do they ‘need’ those cars?

    And is there a place for academics in socialism? Surely academic research is a bourgeois decadance – the sub-text of Shakespeare or knowledge of the Higgs-Boson doesn’t feed people, food does.

    This is what I find hard to reconcile in my life. I love technological progress, and I love that through academics we constantly discover new things. But I’m aware that I dont need most of this knowledge to stay alive (medicine being the possible exception) – I just need simple things like food and air.

    I ‘want’ to learn stuff, I ‘need’ to eat stuff.

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  8. (This is a parenthesis – I’ll respond properly to other comments later.)

    Just in case people aren’t familiar with these names:

    1. Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher/ psychoanalyst who has been described as the ‘Elvis of cultural theory’. He fuses Hegelian philosophy with Marxist theory and certain forms of psychoanalysis to analyse popular phenomena. He is also a well respected theorist of ideology.

    Where to start reading him? ‘The Sublime Object of Ideology’

    2. Walter Benjamin was a German Marxist literary theorist with strong Jewish affinities. He was one of the great literary critics of all time, specialising in the German Romantics, but later becoming increasingly interested in both the theatre of Brecht and surrealist art. He was an expert and passionate lover of nineteenth century Paris, a passion now embodied in his magnum opus of fragments and aphorisms, The Arcades Project (Passagenwerk). In 1940, attempting to cross the border from south France into Spain whilst fleeing the Nazis, he was on the point of being captured and committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill.

    Where to start reading him? ‘Illuminations’ (a series of short essays)

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  9. To John, yes, the aim of a socialist society is to meet the needs of people. And obviously there are certain basic needs we all have. The question immediately facing any socialist society would be: how can we increase the productivity of capitalist technology to ensure that those basic needs are universally met? And how can we do that without destroying the planet in the process?

    As for what you perceive to be ‘artificial’ needs, that’s something a little different. Cars are one case in point, but what about telecommunications? One of the first things any socialist society should do, surely, is make them free, so that friends and family can stay in contact easily without worrying about not being able to afford the luxury (especially if they live on different sides of the world). Now, you could say that that need is artificial, or you could say that it’s an extension of one of the ‘natural’ needs you listed – in this case, relationships.

    The thing about human nature is that it’s not natural: it has culture built in to it. The needs you list are animalistic, and whilst we are, indeed, animals, we’re ones of a very special type: namely, linguistic animals. For me it would make sense that a socialist society would be one in which basic needs were met to the extent that people were generally free to engage in culture in the broadest sense, to celebrate the human excess over and above any biological necessities: giving and receiving of symbols and signs, freely creating, a sort of universal aesthetics – but an aesthetics inseparable from the hard sciences, technology, food production and industry which would render it possible.

    ‘Academia’ is currently a bourgeois decadence – especially interpretations of Shakespeare. But if you project onto the future a policy of ‘this is not useful, why are we doing it?’, then you’re simply recreating the capitalist and utilitarian insistence on utility as a measure of value. And that leads to some pretty bleak worlds.

    A socialist society, as far as I’m concerned, is precisely not one of ‘staying alive’ – that’s what capitalism’s all about. Socialism would be far more complex than capitalism, rather than much more basic (i.e. the myth of ‘back to the woods’ and painting in caves).

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  10. “The question immediately facing any socialist society would be: how can we increase the productivity of capitalist technology to ensure that those basic needs are universally met?”

    While this is undoubtedly true in the short term, hypothetically speaking socialism is not sustainable if it has to rely on the appropriation of capitalist technology.

    Regarding the telecommunication example, I’m perfectly happy to accept that telecommunications are something that I want as part of my world.

    Socialism predates telecommunications though. At some point telecommunications were an ‘artificial’ need on account of them not existing, so there must a transition between something being an artificial ‘need’ and something an extension of a ‘natural’ need. When/how does this happen?

    Facebook could be considered an extension of our ‘natural’ need to communicate, but we were existing pretty well without it 5 or 6 years ago.

    I don’t necessarily doubt the ability of socialism to apportion technology, but I do question the ability of socialism to foster development. If socialism manages to achieve a happy state of equilibrium where everyone has what they need, then why continue to develop when you can invest your resources maintaining this state of affairs?

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  11. Your main two questions:
    1. There must be a transition between something being an artificial ‘need’ and something an extension of a ‘natural’ need. When/how does this happen?
    2. If socialism manages to achieve a happy state of equilibrium where everyone has what they need, then why continue to develop when you can invest your resources maintaining this state of affairs?

    1. I don’t really know the answer to this, but it can be approached in two ways. Firstly, dialectically: natural needs and artificial needs are mutually constituting and are therefore inseparable. Secondly, the distinction with which one begins (natural/ artificial) is notoriously unstable. Ok, we need food, rest, shelter, nurture etc. But as soon as language enters the fray, the stakes change. Humans aren’t animals who just happen to speak and write as a kind of extra: language transforms the nature of all these other originally ‘natural’ activities. What could be more natural than eating, for example? Well, almost anything as it happens, since as soon as language becomes a constitutive part of that activity, then eating becomes a world of signs, habits, rituals etc. Hence diseases like anorexia or bulimia. What about sex – that most ‘natural’ of activities? Well, whips, high heels, nipple clamps, gimp suits, bestiality etc. should be enough to tell you that where humans are concerned there is no such thing as ‘natural’ in this department either. (For Freud every form of sex was inherently perverse – no matter how cuddly – simply because of its being mediated by signs and meanings).

    This isn’t to deny that we should feed the hungry; it’s simply to problematise a little bit that rigid natural/ artificial distinction.

    2. Well, this is what I was saying. Once you’ve developed to a sufficient degree (which sounds so easy in theory…), you would no longer have to develop incessantly. Hence my remarks above about a successful socialist society potentially feeling like it’s not progressing anywhere (although I doubt that it would ever really feel like that 100% – there’ll always be shit to do). The problem is determining the point at which one would say: Okay, that’s it, we’ve reached that point beyond which we no longer need anything. Though to be honest I can’t ever see that point arriving – there’s always more history where that came from.

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  12. John, the point of facebook is an interesting one, as I see facebook as an inherently capitalist phenomenon, something that might simply not occur in a (utopian) socialist society. It’s tenets revolve around a) voyeurism – but in a purely reductive/sexualised manner, creating yourself as spectacle and viewing others in this way (I like particularly the fact that you can pay money for cyber ‘gifts’ in the sense that even the gift is reduced to a pure symbol). b) following from this, the reduction of ones life to a host of easily interpreted signs (these very pictures/groups/likes and dislikes). c) procrastination – which for me is the central point of facebook, underneath it all, and explains the natural extension of the site from one of communication to the incorporation of apps such as farmville. Once again, ‘opiate for the masses.’

    Not only is facebook an inherently capitalist production, then, but it is capitalism’s logical communication (amongst other phenomenon).

    Going on from this, what would socialist facebook look like? Well, who knows, but it would be informed by a socialist ideology and therefore manifest the tendencies of the culture in question.

    That is to say that whilst the communicative aspects of facebook is truly excellent, it is otherwise obnoxious – like capitalism itself.

    Reply
  13. sorry, ‘capitalism’s logical extension’…not communication

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  14. I’ve opened a new blog post on Facebook. Please direct your comments on this topic to that location. Otherwise we’re never gonna get out of this comments jungle and no one will read all this juicy stuff!

    Reply

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